Palm plant

Illustration: John Burgoyne

Put Your Plants to Work
In the early 1980s, when NASA researchers were looking for ways to purify the air inside the space pods of the future, they didn't just look to engineer a pricey, high-tech filtering system. They also turned to the humble houseplant. As the months grow colder and darker, driving you indoors, take a cue from NASA and put your plants to work absorbing the air pollutants lurking in your home or office. O asked Bill Wolverton, PhD, who helped pioneer the NASA studies, to select a trio of potted powerhouses. (For freshest results, Wolverton recommends covering soil with a one-inch layer of pebbles or decorative gravel, which cuts the risk of mold and bacteria.)

1. Palms (bamboo, lady, and areca varieties): Palms not only are top performers in removing airborne toxins but can add up to a liter of moisture to the air per day—perfect for counteracting the desert-dry effects of indoor heating systems.

Next: This plant doesn't even need much sunlight
Rubber plant

Illustration: John Burgoyne

Rubber Plant
This thirsty, shiny mainstay is ideal for rooms that don't receive much sunlight (and aren't most rooms like that in November?). It's particularly adept at filtering formaldehyde, which is found in many adhesives and floor coverings.

Next: Flowers in fall
Florist's Mum

Illustration: John Burgoyne

Florist's Mum
In cheerful reds, pinks, and yellows, this flowering fall plant is an excellent filter of airborne chemicals such as benzene (emitted by gasoline, ink, paint, and pesticides) and ammonia (common in cleaning supplies).

Next: An upside-down plant you barely have to water
Bosske house plant

Photo: Courtesy of Bosske

The Boskke Sky Planter is built to hang upside down from a ceiling hook and uses a reservoir system to release more water when soil is dry and less when it's wet. (Don't worry—the dirt stays put!) The result: It requires up to 80 percent less H 2 0 than its conventional counterparts, and needs refills as infrequently as twice a month—saving you water and time, not to mention floor space. ($25 to $75; )

Keep Reading: The O team gives actress Kerry Washington's L.A. apartment an eco-friendly makeover